Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the United States, affecting people of all ages, especially those over the age of 65. However, did you know that hearing loss is also a common workplace injury?
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 30 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise on the job. According to OSHA, occupational hearing loss is “one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the US for more than 25 years,” and that “thousands of workers suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise.”
While it may seem natural that the loudest professions – construction, factory, airport traffic control, mining – would show the greatest rate of hearing loss amongst its workers, the reality is that many of these loud professions offer their workers hearing protection.
People who work in entertainment venues, dentists’ offices, and even preschools are at risk for hearing loss because they often do not protect their hearing in the workplace! The loud sounds of the club, the whirring of the dental machinery, and the squeals of high-pitched children’s voices could harm your hearing if you do not use proper protective measures.
Read on to learn more about dangerous decibels in the workplace and what you can do to protect your hearing on the job.
Sounds are measured in decibels. An average conversation clocks in at about 60 to 65 decibels. How loud is too loud? Exposure to sounds at 85 decibels for 8 hours is enough to harm your hearing, according to hearing researchers and specialists. If the sound is louder than 85 decibels, then it takes less time for your hearing to be compromised.
As a general rule, if you have to shout from arm’s length away to be heard in the workplace, the environment is too loud. Sounds at 120 decibels could cause immediate permanent hearing damage – and some rock concerts can climb to 120 decibels, which is the same level of sound as a jet engine at takeoff.
Some of the more surprising professions that put workers at risk for hearing loss are dentistry, hair styling, and teaching. Dentists and dental hygienists are exposed daily to the high-pitched whirring of dental tools, while teachers of younger students (preschool and kindergarten) are often surrounded by the loud sound of kids’ voices. Hairstylists frequently use dryers, which are short but loud bursts of sound throughout a workday.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable condition, but it does require that we pay attention to the noise levels in our environment. Noise-induced hearing loss may occur after a one-time event in which you are exposed to incredibly loud sounds (fireworks, gunshots, etc.) or it could occur with exposure over a long period of time. More often than not, occupational hearing loss occurs due to gradual exposure to loud sounds, but in some instances, it could happen after a one-time event.
Exposure to loud sounds could permanently damage the hair cells of the inner ear. These tiny cells are responsible for translating vibrations from sound waves into neural signals that are sent to the brain to be deciphered as sounds we recognize. Sounds that are too loud could permanently damage these cells, which do not regenerate and could then lead to a sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing Conservation in the Workplace
Do you think your workplace is too loud? Use a free smartphone app that measures decibels in your environment to track noise-levels during your workday. If you are exposed to sounds above 85 decibels for an eight-hour work day, without hearing protection, then it is imperative to speak to your employer. OSHA does have regulations for managing workplace noise levels, so make sure that your employer is following these rules.
While many employers of noisy industries do provide hearing protection, it doesn’t hurt to invest in your own custom hearing protection. Custom hearing protection is molded to fit your ear canals, which gives a snug fit that provides better protection.
Visit Us at Elevate Audiology
Are you concerned with your hearing abilities? An annual hearing test helps you keep tabs on your hearing. Contact our team at Elevate Audiology today to schedule an appointment.